W. Cole Durham, Jr., is founding director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) and president of the G20 Interfaith Forum. He presented the following remarks at the Second Brazilian Symposium on Religious Freedom in Brasília, Brazil, 8–10 August 2023. The Symposium was organized by both the ICLRS and the Brazilian Center for Law and Religion Studies (Centro Brasileiro de Estudos em Direito e Religião, CEDIRE), Faculty of Law, Federal University of Uberlândia. This essay first appeared on the G20 Interfaith Blog.
It is a particular honor for me to launch our discussions at this Second Brazilian Symposium on Religious Freedom. I have had several opportunities over the past two decades to visit Brazil, and I have consistently been impressed with the strong commitment of Brazil’s people and its government to the highest standards of freedom of religion or belief. Article 5, clause VI, of the Brazilian Constitution provides that “freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, assuring free exercise of religious beliefs and guaranteeing, as set forth in law, protection of places of worship and their rites.” This clause provides broad protection for religious freedom, which is generally respected by both the government and the populace. As in all societies, there are recurring problems and imperfections in enforcement, but in general, it is fair to say that Brazil is a country with a particularly strong record when it comes to religious freedom.
I believe one of the implications of this reality is that Brazilians will increasingly have opportunities and responsibilities to share this heritage of freedom not only with their fellow citizens but with others around the world. I am very conscious that in just a few months, Brazil will assume the presidency of the G20. This will open unique opportunities to share how its commitment to freedom of religion or belief not only has had intrinsic value for the country but also has contributed to strengthened achievements in many other areas. I believe Brazil has the capacity to exemplify what I will be talking about today: how religious freedom rights contribute to building a free, just, and mutually supportive society.
Religious Freedom Challenges
This is not to say that Brazil has an easy task in this regard. We live in a time of grave religious freedom challenges. While we join with others who respond to the tragedy of genocide with the solemn exclamation, “Never again!,” we are all too conscious that the reality is “Again and again.” In our lifetimes we have experienced the killing fields of Cambodia, genocide in Rwanda, Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia, the Yazidi genocide, the slaughter and displacement of Rohingyas in Myanmar, and far too many similar events.
Justifiable concerns exist about other areas teetering on the edge of such atrocities. The Pew Research Center reports that in sub-Saharan Africa “derogatory statements, physical violence and prohibitions on religious practices and rituals . . . were reported in 44 of the 48 countries in the region (92%)” . According to Pew, social hostilities related to religion declined slightly but remained high in 2019, with 22% of countries (43 altogether, including many of the world’s largest countries) having “high or very high” levels of social hostilities . There was also a drop in countries experiencing religion-related terrorism in 2019, though 49 countries still experienced religion-related terrorist activity and 28 countries experienced violence that caused more than 50 injuries or deaths . Government restrictions on religion rose to an all-time high, with 29% of countries having “high or very high” levels of government restrictions . In total, 180 countries—91% of countries studied—“had at least one instance . . . of government harassment against religious groups . In 82% of countries, “government authorities interfered in worship in ways such as prohibiting certain practices, withholding access to places of worship or denying permits for religious activities or buildings” .
COVID-19 had a number of deleterious effects on religious practice . Some government restrictions were justified by the health risks involved. But there was a tendency for restrictions to be unduly harsh, especially when compared with other types of behavior where groups were allowed to gather with lesser constraints. Authorities in nearly a quarter of all countries studied used arrests and prison sentences to enforce coronavirus restrictions . Religious groups filed lawsuits or otherwise contested COVID-19 restrictions in 54 of 198 countries . Religious groups defied public health rules related to COVID-19 in 35% of the countries studied . As a counterweight, it is important to note that religious leaders and groups promoted public health measures to help slow the spread of the disease . But litigation challenging disproportionate regulation has occupied courts in both the United States  and in Europe .
Religious leaders around the world are concerned by the rising tide of antisemitism and Islamophobia . Similar persecution has been documented against religiously unaffiliated people in a growing number of countries . Levels of vandalism attacks on religious properties as well as physical attacks on individuals are proliferating . This has led a consortium of interfaith groups in Europe to design safety and security guides that can be helpful as groups try to minimize the risks of violence to their communities . This is a salient example of religious communities working together to find solutions to practical current problems.
Despite a strong positive record, Brazil is clearly not exempt from problems. A brief perusal of the U.S. State Department’s annual religious freedom report on Brazil identifies many of the positive measures government leaders and others are taking to promote and protect freedom of religion, but the report also points to varying types of recurring problems. According to FAMBRAS, a prominent Muslim group, women “continued to face difficulties in being allowed to wear Islamic head coverings such as the hijab when going through security in airports and other public buildings” . Also problematic are various reports concerning attacks on or discrimination against Afro-Brazilian institutions and religious communities . To its credit, Brazil appears to be taking seriously the disproportionate number of cases involving followers of Afro-Brazilian religions. My hope is that this conference can take such problems seriously—as challenges that can demonstrate Brazil’s ability to wrestle effectively with difficult recurring problems.
The Deeper Challenges and Deeper Answers that Religious Freedom Offers
Thus far I have described just the tip of the iceberg of recurring religious freedom challenges that we face around the world and have suffered time out of mind. The problems have a gravity and urgency that helps explain why such strong consensus exists on the importance of international religious freedom and the evils it is intended to remedy. Religious persecution is an incontestable evil, and religious discrimination is like unto it. This is why it has been possible over the past few years to get 42 countries to join the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance. This is why it is possible to galvanize support year after year among a legion of NGOs to combat the worst religious freedom abuses. It is of course easier to draw attention to the problems that are evident elsewhere in the world than to work out solutions to the problems simmering in one’s own backyard. But it is worth emphasizing at the outset just how grave and pervasive the problems are.
In the remainder of my time, however, I would like not to focus on the immensity and intensity of the challenges posed by religious freedom issues but instead to examine why the principle of religious freedom is such a vital solution. I often point out that religious freedom is the oldest of the internationally recognized human rights, tracing its history back to at least the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. I call it the “grandparent of human rights” because other rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and equality and nondiscrimination rights were all worked out first in the context of deep religious tensions. (Often, in our day, I have to lament that it is an unfortunately neglected grandparent.) But if one penetrates beneath the surface of the shifting faces of social conflict that have unfolded over centuries, it is much more than a mere progenitor of other rights.
Religious freedom is modernity’s master key to solving the riddle of how to achieve stable peace in a world of deep differences. It is not just that we have an urgent set of religion-related problems that need to be solved; it is that we need the principle of religious freedom to solve the underlying problem. Within the interlocking network of human rights, the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief plays a particularly significant, but often forgotten or underestimated, role. But its importance is forgotten at our peril.
My aim in what follows is to argue that freedom of religion or belief provides the fundamental underlying social and political architecture that is vital for achieving a free, just, and sustainable, mutually supportive society. The argument in brief is that the ideal of human dignity, which includes freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, is critical to stabilizing just social orders and, as such, is critical to just peace at all levels—global, national, local, familial, and individual relations .
Parenthetically, it is worth noting that this argument is clearly not intended as a species of neo-colonial argumentation, attempting to impose an outside point of view. Rather, it is intended to invite you into a world in which we live together, with differences, with the ability to learn from each other, and thereby come to a better understanding of the ways that the dignity of difference and the dignity of understanding can be brought together. What I hope to be able to explain is why you and others in this part of the world would be able to elaborate further why freedom of religion or belief is fundamental to the social and political architecture that we common inhabitants of this world are building, and that we may be able to think together about some distinctive and perhaps non-obvious features of the architecture.
In many ways, the brief statement of my argument is simply a restatement of a time-tested axiom of modern pluralist societies. But this axiom is paradoxical in key respects. It entails requiring members of society to respect the right of others to hold beliefs that may be deeply different from their own. This in turn means that social structures cannot be based on specific sets of commonly held values, except the reciprocally recognized right for different groups and individuals (subject only to strictly limited restrictions) to choose and act on their own values. For this reason, the canons of freedom of religion or belief often seem counterintuitive at the level of ordinary politics where differing values are often at the heart of conflicts—conflicts that often seem particularly incendiary.
Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Minimum Conditions of Social Peace
During much of human history, religion has been viewed as a major source of social tensions and divisiveness. Because religious differences are deep and nonnegotiable, they lead to intractable conflicts that have littered the pages of history. While there is some truth to this account, recent scholarship suggests that this picture overstates the dark side of religion . Close analysis of conflicts that involve religious actors often demonstrates that it is not religion itself that causes conflicts but a variety of other factors . Violence in the name of religion may reflect the instrumentalization of religion by other social actors. This is not to claim that religion is never responsible for violence and conflict. It is simply a reminder that great care should be taken in attributing blame.
With that caveat in mind, the starting point for excavating the minimum conditions for social peace is an insight associated with the thought of John Locke. Where much of prior political theory had assumed that social stability presupposed religious homogeneity, Locke recognized that it is not so much religious difference that causes conflict but pressures to coerce religious homogeneity. Stated differently, Locke recognized that the real source of violence perpetrated in the name of religion is not religious difference itself but defensive conduct when conscientious convictions are threatened by efforts to coerce social monism . This fundamental Lockean insight was revolutionary when first pronounced and remained experimental when first introduced as a principle of social order in American constitutionalism.
The insight has been refined in various ways through subsequent experience. First, we now have much better empirical evidence that religious freedom is strongly correlated with and likely to be causally contributory to achievement of countless other social goods .
Second, experience has shown us that a far more robust version of pluralism is workable than what Locke originally proposed. In his view, the private judgment of a person “does not take away the obligation of that law, nor deserve a dispensation” . This issue—whether neutral and general laws should override claims of conscience—remains one of the central controversies of modern constitutional theory . While debate continues, legal regimes sensitive to the problem have recognized that both the intrinsic justice and the stability-strengthening potential of religious freedom are enhanced if the law is construed to avoid conscientious conflict, except where there is a compelling need that cannot be achieved in some less restrictive way .
Third, Locke was right that there are limits to what needs to be tolerated in a free society, but most would disagree with Locke’s judgment that Catholics, Muslims, atheists, and perhaps Jews were too intolerant to be tolerated. Our notion is that this line needs to be drawn in a far more limited way to exclude those who would exploit democracy to abolish it . There is substantial room in stable societies for people with deeply different worldviews.
Fourth, we would not necessarily draw the line between religious and secular in a way that would confine religion wholly to the private sphere. What is critical is an inclusive and flexible form of secularity that confers no distinctive coercive power on either religious or secular world views but rather affords inclusive recognition of the dignity of all.
The minimum conditions necessary for a stable peace can thus be much more narrowly defined than was first intimated by Locke’s insight. It is not cultural homogeneity that is critical, and not even tolerance as Locke understood it, but a much narrower pluralistic commitment that can be articulated as follows:
What counts . . . is not whether religious people appreciate other beliefs and practices or whether they admit of alternative paths to salvation. What really matters is whether each, on sound internal grounds, supports the public doctrine of the equal inherent dignity and inalienable freedom of all human beings, irrespective of their religion, life stance, or any other differences, and that each reasonably understand[s] or else trust[s] that others similarly support general freedom of religion or belief .
Note that, in the end, what is really required for social peace at the core of the Lockean insight, as adapted and refined over ensuing centuries, is a shared commitment to equal human dignity safeguarded by strong protection of freedom of religion or belief. This commitment needs to be sufficiently robust that it can give rise to reciprocal trust that human dignity (as variously understood by those holding differing worldviews and life stances) will be protected.
The ideal of dignity as envisioned here needs to be understood more dynamically than as a mere static starting point for moral deductions. It has generative power in discourse that has the potential to expand vision and raise sights. It has an inherent reciprocity that encourages those on one side of a moral argument to take the dignity of others into account. Moreover, it is a discursive concept with an upward trajectory. It typically serves as a basis for generating agreement and building common understanding—building consensus on a higher plane than might have been reached without the appeal to dignity.
A Sometimes-Unappreciated Aspect of Religious Freedom’s Architecture
In this final section, I want to emphasize one aspect of the notion of religious freedom that is often not sufficiently appreciated. Earlier I talked about religious freedom as a grandparent right, but in some ways its provenance is even older than Augsburg and Westphalia. There is an aspect of freedom of religion or belief that is logically prior to individual freedom. Individual religious freedom rights are highly dependent on the vitality of an older doctrine with more ancient and more communal roots. The doctrine I have in mind is the idea that is perhaps best described as the autonomy of religious communities, or “religious autonomy” for short. What is meant by this is not the autonomy of individuals but the right of religious communities to self-determination in their internal affairs, or more accurately, since as German theorists have recognized, not all of these matters are purely “internal,” it is better to speak of the right of religious communities to autonomy in their own affairs (eigene Angelegenheiten). It is true, as David Novak has said, that ‘[f]reedom of religion in our democratic, pluralistic polities is not what in pre-modern times was called libertas ecclesiae or ‘the liberty of the Church’” . But as I have written elsewhere, “sound anchoring of the future of these doctrines depends on understanding both the depth and the vitality of their pasts” . While there are no doubt risks that the freedom of the religious believer may be limited by the “liberty of the Church,” the liberty of the religious community as a whole and of other believers would be limited if subjected to the beliefs and will of any particular individual in the community. The beliefs of the individual are in profound ways derivative of the beliefs of the group. The individual is free to leave the group, and to attempt to persuade the group, but not to dictate the beliefs or policies of the group.
This is not the place to go into a full-scale analysis of the autonomy of religious communities. Suffice it to say that there is a notion deeply imbedded in the jurisprudence of the West that a dimension of religious authority lies beyond the jurisdiction of the secular state. In the parlance of a famous saying of Jesus—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the thigs that are God’s” —the dimension of religious authority lies beyond the jurisdiction of the secular ruler.
However one understands (or rejects) the ontology involved, secular courts for centuries have understood the wisdom of not intervening in the autonomy of religious communities. A long line of cases in the United States, tracing back to the time before free exercise case law began,  has elaborated the doctrine of religious autonomy. Similar jurisprudence can be traced in European countries  and in the European Court of Human Rights . In the landmark case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission , the U.S. Supreme Court expressly recognized that a religious institution’s autonomy right is grounded both in the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause, as well as in the weaker right to freedom of association. Both of the Religion Clauses thus bar interference with the right of religious communities to autonomy, among other things, in making employment decisions with respect to their personnel who have ministerial roles . The case law of the European Court of Human Rights has also been protective of religious autonomy in employment contexts .
The precise nature and scope of religious autonomy varies from country to country, both along a horizontal dimension (starting with the core religious institutions themselves and then sweeping more broadly to include religious educational institutions, broadcast and publishing entities, humanitarian aid institutions, and so on) and a vertical dimension (starting with ecclesiastical leaders and reaching down to teachers, administrative personnel, lay ministers, and so on). Religious autonomy embraces not only rights to self-determination in doctrine but also in matters of organization (ecclesiastical structure, after all, is often a matter of doctrine) and administration. Because of significant variance in the organizational structures that religious communities build, the implications of the religious autonomy doctrine can have rather different outcomes in different religious systems. But failure to respect such autonomy can be profoundly disruptive to the life of religious communities and inevitably has trickle-down implications for the religious live of individual believers.
I emphasize the significance of religious autonomy doctrine as a core dimension of freedom of religion or belief because it is a domain that has witnessed some of the most significant religious freedom developments in recent years. An example is the recent Pavez v. Chile case decided by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in February 2022 . In that case, brought by a woman who lost certification to serve as a teacher of Catholic religion in Chilean public schools as a result of coming out as a lesbian, the Inter-American Court ultimately found in favor of the teacher, even though in fact she continued in her employment, albeit in a different (and better paying position) in the same school. A largely parallel case involving a priest who ultimately lost certification and his actual job in Spain resulted in a decision that went against the priest who had chosen marriage over his vows of celibacy . These decisions arise in particularly contentious areas of modern culture wars where some of today’s most profound examples of deep difference are to be found. They arise in areas where some of the most wrenching decisions must be made as we consider conflicting claims of human dignity.
On their face, these issues appear to pose a conflict between religious freedom and discrimination claims. But remembering the religious autonomy issue helps to clarify that dignity claims are at stake on both sides of these disputes. It is easy to see the discrimination involved when an individual loses employment altogether, or a specific kind of employment as in However, it is easy to forget that a decision to protect individuals from this type of employment discrimination results in another form of discrimination against a religious community’s beliefs and way of life, and against the associated rights of its believers. To be ultimately effective, and to find ways in which individuals and groups with deep differences can live together in peace and stability, the dignity claims of both those with sexual orientation claims and those with religious claims, including religious autonomy claims, must be taken into account and carefully balanced.
Historical experience has long suggested that religion has its roots in its own distinctive ontological space. While the exact boundaries of this space have been contested through the centuries and remain contested today, the existence of this space and the importance of protecting it has become one of the fundamental verities of our constitutional experience. Protecting the autonomy of religious communities respects the dignity of those who have formed them and chosen to live within them. At the same time, it safeguards the space within which religious communities work, grow, and resolve internal issues. It also maintains the potential for those who dissent to build alternative communities or simply go their own way. History has taught that, like freedom of religion more generally, and despite and perhaps precisely because of tensions, religious autonomy is one of the most effective tools we have for channeling the influence of conscience in fruitful paths. It is not without limits, but those limits need to be structured in ways that facilitate rather than control its contributions.
 Remarks have been lightly edited for publication.
 Braz. Const. art. 5, cl. VI.
 Samirah Majumdar, Pew Rsch. Ctr., How COVID-19 Affected Religious Groups Around the World in 2020 at 37 (29 Nov. 2022) (link to report PDF).
 Samirah Majumdar & Virginia Villa, Pew Rsch. Ctr., Globally, Social Hostilities Related to Religion Decline in 2019, While Government Restrictions Remain at Highest Levels 6 (30 Sept. 2021).
 Id. at 7.
 Id. at 10.
 Id. at 12.
 Id. at 13.
 Samirah Majumdar, Key Findings about COVID-19 Restrictions that Affected Religious Groups Around the World in 2020, Pew Rsch. Ctr., (29 Nov. 2022).
 Majumdar, How COVID-19 Affected Religious Groups, supra note 3, at 7.
 See, e.g., Roman Catholic Dioceses of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, 141 S. Ct. 63 (2020).
 See, e.g., Figel v. Slovakia, App. No. 12131/21 (ECtHR, communicated 12 Dec. 2022).
 See, e.g., Jeff Diamant, Anti-Jewish Harassment Occurred in 94 Countries in 2020, Up from Earlier Years, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (17 Mar. 2023).
 Sarah Crawford & Virginia Villa, Religiously Unaffiliated People Face Harassment in a Growing Number of Countries, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (27 Jan. 2023).
 Samirah Majumdar, In 2020, Properties in 102 Countries and Territories Were Targeted in Incidents Tied to Religion, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (6 June 2023).
 I am thankful to Elizabeta Kitanovic and the Conference of European Churches for alerting me to the Safer and Stronger Communities in Europe (SASCE) series of guidelines, including a Guide to Law Enforcement, Guide for Leaders and Staff Members, and Guide for Community Members. See generally https://www.sasce.eu/safety-security-guides.
 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Brazil, U.S. Dep’t St. (2017).
 The argument made here is in some ways an elaboration and expansion of the argument of an earlier article written by Elizabeth Clark and myself. W. Cole Durham, Jr. & Elizabeth A. Clark, The Place of Religious Freedom in the Structure of Peacebuilding, in The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding 281, 281–306 (Atalia Omer, R. Scott Appleby & David Little eds., 2015).
 William T. Cavenaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (2009).
 See, e.g., Gerald F. Powers, Religion and Peacebuilding, in Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World 317, 319–20 (Daniel Philpott & Gerard F. Powers eds., 2010); Monica Duffy Toft, Religion, Terrorism, and Civil Wars, in Rethinking Religion and World Affairs 127, 138–42 (Timothy Samuel Shah, Alfred Stepan & Monica Duffy Toft eds., 2012).
 See John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration 55 (Bobbs-Merrill 1955) (1689).
 See, e.g., Brian J. Grim & Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century 215–22 (2011).
 Locke, supra note 25, at 50.
 The question whether Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), should be overruled is the continuation of this story in American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 141 S. Ct. 1868 (2021), has eroded to the vanishing point the holding in Smith that general or neutral laws could suffice to overrule a free exercise claim. The European Court of Human Rights has insisted on a more careful and proportionality-attuned balancing in addressing this issue.
 Significantly, relatively few of the individual states of the United States have followed the Smith precedent as a matter of state constitutional law. See W. Bassett et al., Religious Organizations and the Law § 3:26 (State Standards of Free Exercise Review under State RFRAs and State High Court Decisions), Westlaw (database updated Dec. 2022); Alec Stone Sweet & Jud Mathews, Proportionality Balancing and Global Constitutionalism, 47 Colum. J. Transnat’l L. 72, 73–74 (2008) (discussing adoption of proportionality balancing analysis in most jurisdictions outside the United States).
 András Sajó & Renáta Uitz, The Constitution of Freedom: An Introduction to Legal Constitutionalism 9–10, 433–38 (2017) (addressing militant democracy).
 Tore Lindholm, Philosophical and Religious Justifications of Freedom of Religion or Belief, in Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Deskbook 19, 46 (Tore Lindholm, W. Cole Durham, Jr. & Bahia G. Tahzib-Lie eds., 2004).
 David Novak, What Is Religious Freedom, in Law, Religion, and Freedom: Conceptualizing a Common Right 9, 10 (W. Cole Durham, Jr., Javier Martínez-Torrón & Donlu Thayer eds., 2021).
 W. Cole Durham, Jr., Religious Autonomy at the Crossroads, in Law, Religion, and Freedom: Conceptualizing a Common Right, supra note 32, at 257, 258.
 Mark 12:15–17 (King James).
 See, e.g., Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 679 (1871); Bouldin v. Alexander, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 131 (1872); Gonzalez v. Roman Catholic Archbishop, 280 U.S. 1 (1929); Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344 U.S. 94 (1952). Watson predated the first free exercise U.S. Supreme Court case, Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878), by seven years.
 See, e.g., Hasan & Chaush v. Bulgaria, App. No. 30985/96 (ECtHR Grand Chamber, 26 Oct. 2000); Svyato-Mykhaylivska Parafiya v. Ukraine(ECtHR, 14 Sept. 2007); Obst v. Germany, App. No. 425/03 (ECtHR, 23 Dec. 2010); Fernández Martínez v. Spain, App. No. 56030/07 (ECtHR Grand Chamber, 12 June 2014).
 Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 (2012).
 Id. at 181. The Hosanna-Tabor decision was reaffirmed in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Beru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), which gave even greater deference to the religious autonomy principle, because it gave the religious employer even greater flexibility in selecting personnel and refused to impose a rigid structure on what would count as “ministerial” personnel.
 See, e.g., Fernández Martínez, App. No. 56030/07.
 Pavez Pavez v. Chile, Judgment on the Merits, Reparations & Costs (Inter-Am. Ct. H.R., 4 Feb. 2022).
 Fernández Martínez, App. No. 56030/07.